I was inspired to write this article by the youngest photography student of mine - 11 years old Hanaka from Tokyo. She came together with her father, Lloyd, who must have noticed her interest in photography or art in general and did what all parents should do - let the child pursue their passion and help them in their search for identity. If you are reading this and have kids then take notes, because this is what parenting should look like - there has to be a balance between showing the right way (which kills the child inside us) and letting your children discover themselves. There is a difference between parents who want their child to grow as they see it fit and those who actually care about the kid to follow their own path. There is a good reason why artists often are childish and pure in a sense - we refuse to be murdered by the boredom of adulthood. Speaking as an artist, I can tell you that there is nothing worse than growing up and not being sure why you think or see things differently than others, why is whatever you are studying is not really your thing, and why is that a regular job or career is of no interest to you whatsoever. Why else do you think artists get depressed? So anyways, we were walking and talking and Hanaka was running all over the place with a camera taking photos. She was shooting from unusual angles and capturing things that most of the people would not even notice. At some point she came over and showed us her photos, and I noticed something special about them - those photos had soul. She was not simply capturing things around her, but instead she was searching for things that reflected her personality. But then she said something that hit me like an express train. She asked "so how do you set a shutter speed on this camera"?
See, Japanese calligraphy, which is an art that I have been studying for 16 years now, for most of the people is just a maze of lines - a form abstract art at best. It is intimidating, not just because of its abstract nature, but because most people do not understand what is written. The ability to understand makes us feel comfortable. We fear things we do not comprehend, mostly because we cannot control them or are unable to connect. And the word "understand" is the key here. Japanese or Chinese calligraphy is not about understanding what is written, but about the energy flow in the entire work, about the beauty of the white space and the harmony therein. It has NOTHING to do with real life shapes either, it is all about the energy and power. It takes years and years of studies to see it BUT you need to be an artist in the first place to feel it. And photography is exactly the same. Photograph is not about what you see, but mostly about how it makes you feel. The mood, the energy the atmosphere of that moment that you captured is essential. It is a story telling with light, and light is pure energy. Photography is the art of painting a story and emotions with light. Looking at a photograph you are admiring the relationship between the light and shadows. This is how a photo should be composed. During daytime you compose with shadows and during night you compose with lights. I do not care about what I photograph but how it feels when I look at it. This is why a great photographer can take photos of anything and make it look artistic. The key to understanding photography is to appreciate the quality of light and what mood it creates. This is why when you look at some photographs you either love them or you don't, and that feeling is often difficult to explain. Thing is, you are not supposed to explain it, you are supposed to feel it. If you have to explain a photograph it either means that it is a bad capture or whoever is asking you about it is merely looking at it, but not sensing it.
What Hanaka said hit hard because I realized that she completely did not care about the camera. It was an extension of her soul, just a tool for capturing what others cannot see. And that is what photography is all about. Yes, knowing your gear is very important, because then it becomes your second nature. Once mastered you are not limited by lack of technical knowledge. However, you can know it all inside out and still not to be able to take good photographs, just like being proficient in photohsop does not make you a good retoucher. Knowing the tools and knowing how to use them are two different things. All famous artists were hard working, ever-seeking new challenges and always searching for inspiration. If a recipe for success is 10% of talent and 90% of hard work then let me tell you that this 10% changes things from OK to out of this world. When you realize what discipline of life "your 10%" is related to, go for it and never look back.
I always smile when people tell me that they do not like a given song because of the lyrics. I have never paid attention to lyrics. In fact I prefer not to understand them. Vocal is a sound, and that is what matters. It has to harmonize with the music on many levels. Meaning is irrelevant for me. Your photographs should be like music with vocals that are so amazing that you forget to listen to what is being sung. It is how it sounds that matters not what words you can hear. It is the sound of the words not the meaning that you should hear. Good photograph will be pleasing to look at, a great photograph will leave you speechless and wondering. That is the difference between photography taken with a camera and true art captured with your soul.
Ponte Ryuurui (品天龍涙)